Slash and Burn

The Institute of Public Affairs has given us a sneak preview of the savage cuts Australians could expect if Tony Abbott were to become Prime Minister.

The Liberal Party should be thankful that with kids’ sport, messy lawns and supermarkets calling, not everyone has the time or inclination to read the Weekend Australian on a Saturday. If they did, they would have spotted a chilling preview of things to come were they to elect Tony Abbott as prime minister.

Now, I know as the head of the Chifley Research Centre, I shouldn’t be promoting the views of one of our conservative opponents, the Institute for Public Affairs, a think tank based in Melbourne which is well-funded by corporate donations and therefore not requiring extra assistance.

But I think it would be doing Australians a disservice if they were denied a proper airing and discussion of something which was sneaked into the Weekend Australian to impress the elites and escape everyone else’s attention. Because with budget sustainability shaping as a key dividing line in the election due in six months from last Thursday, people deserve to know what the Coalition would have in store.

Saturday’s story (paywalled) was based on this paper by the IPA’s Alan Moran which was published on Catallaxy Files, and told us that the Institute was recommending to Canberra $23.5 billion in cuts. These include cancelling the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme; abolishing Fair Work and Safe Work Australia; almost halving the general research budget; cancelling all Commonwealth housing programs; eliminating foreign aid and the Human Rights Commission; slashing 23,500 public service jobs; abolishing agriculture, forestry and fisheries programs; and privatising the ABC and SBS.

Let’s be clear: the Coalition’s brains trust thinks the targets of any incoming government should be, among others, ordinary workers, the disabled, researchers, those relying on housing assistance, and viewers of the public broadcasters. If you are in any of these categories, and missed the weekend’s papers, watch out. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have plans for you and you won’t like them.

Now before you say that this is the Institute’s list and not the Coalition’s, or that the IPA was recommending the cuts to Gillard and not Abbott, I invite you to consider these comments from the IPA’s Alan Moran, who said “some items have been discussed with Coalition politicians, many of whom are in agreement with the principles against which the list has been developed”. It is no stretch to say this is a shopping list of deep cuts coordinated with the Liberal Party in Canberra.

We also know that this sort of fiscal savagery would be necessary to fill the $70 billion shortfall that shadow treasurer Joe Hockey identified in August 2011 before being forced into an embarrassing retreat. In fact, at just one third of the total Liberal savings task, there would have to be even more carnage to come.

No wonder shadow finance minister Andrew Robb keeps telling us the Coalition have all their policies ready to go yet they’re not outlining them until much closer to an election. The IPA’s cuts will stay in the top drawer until five minutes to midnight. But we now know they’re there.

We also know from experience under Campbell Newman, in my home state of Queensland, that the well-thumbed Liberal Party playbook is to promise the world before an election then hack into jobs and services after the election, ideally under the cover of some kind of commission of audit headed by another former Coalition politician.

Of all the choices before Australians at the September 14 election, few could be clearer than this: attacks on workers and the disabled from the Liberal Party versus growth and jobs from Labor.

If only the Liberal Party and its mates in well-funded, well-heeled Melbourne think tanks had the courage to communicate this to the people who would actually bear the brunt of a Tony Abbott Government, and not just their mates in the media.

Jim`s article was first published on The Drum on 18 March 2013

About Jim Chalmers

Jim Chalmers

Jim Chalmers MP is Shadow Minister for Finance, and the federal Labor Member for Rankin. Prior to his election he was the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre and, before that, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer. He has a PhD in political science and international relations and a first class honours degree in public policy. His book Glory Daze was published in July 2013 and he tweets as @JEChalmers .

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